Monday, October 18, 2010

Fighting Fires

By Alan Burkhart

Supercompressed_Call911 In modern-day America one of the things most of us take for granted is the ability to punch "9-1-1" on any phone and instantly call for help during an emergency. Be it a burglar, a heart attack or a fire, help can be on the way in short order.

We all know that medical professionals attend school for years to be able to do what they do. We know that law enforcement requires rigorous training to do the often dangerous work of patrolling our streets and helping us stay safe. But have you ever wondered just what a fire fighter endures to become certified? How much work and study must one accomplish before being allowed to run into a burning house to drag your unconscious form to safety?

In Mississippi this starts with 40 hours of classroom training. And assuming you get through that, then the real fun begins when you visit the Fire Academy.


I have a good friend who is a 12-year veteran of "Fire Station Seven" near Magee, MS. He recently shared with me some great photos from a training day at the Mississippi State Fire Academy in Pearl, MS. Many attendees (from Station 7 and other stations) were there for their first certification. Others like my buddy (name withheld for his privacy – just call him “D”) were there for required periodic recertification. Here then, is a sample of what a fire fighter goes through just for the privilege of saving your home, and perhaps your life.

A Day at the Academy…


D getting suited up for the recertification exercises

On average a fire fighter’s gear weighs 60 to 70 pounds. It’s of prime importance for a fire fighter to be able to quickly suit up and to be agile while wearing it. The gear is heavy, bulky and often uncomfortable. Imagine wearing all this stuff in an environment where temperatures can approach 200 degrees Fahrenheit.

The first pictured exercise is called a "platform fire." The area is covered with diesel fuel and set ablaze. The intent here is to simulate fires at oil wells, refineries, etc.






It gets even more interesting when fighting a natural gas fire.


In the above image, you can see a small propane tank in the foreground. Closer to the fire, there’s a small torch propped up on a concrete block. Once the torch is lit, a gas valve beneath the big metal box is opened and the gas is allowed to accumulate. When it finally reaches the torch the gas ignites with explosive force. This is done with the fire fighters nearby so they can see and feel the explosion. The device with the gas valve is barely visible in the flames. The above image was shot at the instant of ignition.

GasFire_02 Look at the heat waves rolling off the box. Got marshmallows?

So… Just how does one put out a natural gas fire in a house when there’s an open valve spewing gas into the air? That’s a little tricky. See, someone has to actually reach out and close the valve. Any volunteers?

To accomplish this small task, fire fighters employ a “fog pattern” with their hoses. They slowly approach the fire two or three abreast and use the wide (but still powerful) fog pattern from multiple hoses to push the fire back from the valve. Once the valve is accessible, some lucky guy gets to crawl beneath the box and close the valve. The crawling around in the training exercise is intended to simulate the act of reaching behind a machine or appliance to reach a valve in a “real” fire (as if this isn’t real enough). Did I mention that the valve can still be hot enough to burn their gloves?




Anyone for a steam bath?

Regarding the fog pattern…

The modern nozzles on fire hoses provide a variety of options for most any situation. The fog pattern as shown above is just one. A “power cone” is another hollow cone of water but narrower and far more powerful. It’s often used inside buildings to sweep objects out of the way to provide access to the fire. It’s also used to sweep leaking fuel and debris from under burning vehicles. The pictured nozzle is a “TurboJet" Model 1763” from Akron Brass. It’s typical of the nozzles used at Station Seven and other fire stations around the country.


The flow from this nozzle can reach 200 gallons per minute. I’m not a fire fighter, but I’m guessing you’d want to use both hands.

One of the perks of being a fire fighter is that you get to jump off buildings. Here’s a series of photos of D and another fire fighter rappelling off a training structure.

Rappel_01 Rappel_02 Rappel_03 Rappel_04

Rappel_08 What? Did you think only men were fire fighters? According to 2007 US Census information there are about 14,000 female firefighters in the USA. Hats off, ladies. You’re braver than I.


Rappel_07 At least during training you get to land on this monster air mattress.

When others run out, they run in…


Think about this for a moment – would you enter a burning building? Really?

Consider what awaits you inside. It’s not an oven. It’s a blast furnace. Without the protective gear you’d be cooked alive in seconds. The air tanks fire fighters wear supply breathable oxygen for about half an hour. During a visit to D’s home some weeks back, he showed me an old visor he doesn’t use anymore. He had to replace it because it had partially melted – while he was wearing it.

And in many cases you’re blind. The thick smoke and distorted air make seeing anything nearly impossible. And yet when people are trapped inside they have to find them and get them to safety.  D tells me that in many cases, by the time you can see the glow of the fire through the smoke, it’s close enough to burn your shoes. This is another situation where the fog pattern is vital. It’s how they force the fire back until they can see it well enough to deal with it.

In many of the training exercises, fire fighters are made to crawl through a simulation (I’m told it’s not actually on fire) complete with overturned furniture, wires hanging from the ceiling to the floor, sudden drop-offs and various other hazards. And to better simulate the visual aspect of a real fire, often the fire fighters have their visors taped over. They’re totally blind. And you have three minutes to find a “victim” (usually a life-size dummy) and get out. Yeah. Go try that and let me know how it goes.

At the end of the day…

JustAnotherDay_2 JustAnotherDay

Just another day at the office, right?

Keep in mind that the vast majority of fire departments and fire fighters are volunteer. Small towns cannot afford paid fire departments. Volunteer fire departments have three main sources of financial support: Unsolicited donations, fund raising efforts and modest government grants. Volunteer fire fighters don’t get a dime for what they do. This is by no means a knock on paid fire fighters, but consider the commitment necessary to walk into a burning home when you could just as easily ignore the radio on any given day.

Volunteer fire fighters are the people you see on the street every day. Plumbers, truck drivers, factory workers, etc. Ordinary people performing an extraordinary service for their communities. Thank one when you have the opportunity.

Photo Credits:


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Friday, October 01, 2010

Tires and Train Wheels

By Alan Burkhart

Since getting laid off in July, I’ve been taking pretty much whatever work I can scrounge up from one week to the next. It hasn’t been all bad. While full-time positions are scarce, there’s always someone who just “needs something done.” I’m not especially proud, so I can keep the bills paid and the lights on.

I’ve done a bit of work for a guy who buys and sells all manner of used equipment (cars, trucks, construction machinery, etc). Since I’m a “professional” driver, I pick up various vehicles at auctions around the Southeast and bring’em back to his business in Mississippi. The pay is pretty good, and usually whatever I’m driving is a decent ride. Usually.


The other day I rode with another driver to Charlotte, NC to pick up a “crane truck.” It’s an old railroad construction vehicle with a small crane and a “man bucket” like those used by utility companies to lift a line technician up to a power line. The truck also has small railroad wheels underneath. These are lowered hydraulically to allow the truck to travel on the railroads just like a train.

So there I was, tooling along I-20 through Tuscaloosa, AL. The MS state line was only 71 miles away. It was early afternoon and I was already thinking about what I was going to fix myself for dinner when I got home. Then all hell broke loose.

TrainWheels_01 The tires had good tread, but the truck had been sitting a long time so dry rot was a factor. All involved felt the old girl would make it home and I wasn’t terribly worried about the tires. The right steering tire blew. It’s always an adventure when this happens with a truck, but in this case it was even more interesting. When the right side lost height due to the blowout, the railroad wheels on that side bit solidly into the asphalt, making the truck almost impossible to steer.

Tire_01 The truck was doing its damndest to rumble off into the steep, 75-foot ditch along this section of I-20 (just west of exit #71, if you’re familiar with Tuscaloosa). I had to turn the wheel a full turn to the left just to keep it straight. I-20 is a fast and busy highway through Tuscaloosa. The speed limit is 70 mph and most folks roll along about 75 or 80.

Funny thing… when I finally got stopped in the breakdown lane, NO ONE was going by me. The whole westbound side just stopped, evidently for fear that the truck was going to spin around to the left due to how I had twisted the steering wheel to hold it straight. Once I was stationary, people started easing on by and in short order all was back to a normal level of mayhem.

Anyway, I got the old bitch girl off the road and into the breakdown lane. The equipment dealer I was working for is a helpful and concerned sort of guy, but in spite of his best efforts it still took 2 hours until a service truck arrived with another tire. Then three and half more hours until I arrived at the equipment dealer’s sale lot. Then a 40 minute drive home. And here I sit, with a cold glass of my own iced tea and relaxing in my comfy “executive” leather office chair. Home never felt so good. :-)

Saturday, August 28, 2010

August Adventure

By Alan Burkhart

Screwed As some of you already know, I’m currently unemployed and hunting a new job. This has actually proven to be more work than having a job. It’s the first time I’ve been out of work for longer than a week or two, and it’s frustrating. The whole process of applying for unemployment, wallpapering the town with job applications and stressing over bills is frustrating to say the least. For me, it’s uncharted territory.

Anyway, one of my best friends recently had a death in his family. He’s an independent trucker and was already under a load bound for South Carolina. He called me to inquire if I’d be willing to deliver the load and bring another load back to Mississippi. Two friends in need: One needing some extra cash to get through the next week or so, and the other needing someone to deliver his load to keep the customer happy. Problems solved. I packed my duffel and made the 50-minute drive to his house to grab the truck.

The delivery was simple. One piece (a small dredging tool), two chains, no problem. I delivered during the morning while the weather was relatively cool. Then I was off to make the 150-mile trip to Hazlehurst, GA and reload at an equipment auction.

TwinToilets En route, I stopped in some little community at the junction of US Hwy 1 and I-16 for a quick pit stop. It’s a tiny little country store with a 10-ft grocery aisle, a 20-ft beer cooler and a pool table. Now folks, I’ve been driving trucks for 30+ years and I have seen some truly revolting public restrooms in my time. This one was less than pristine, but not so filthy that I feared catching leprosy from the door knob. However, as public restrooms go, it was a tad too “cozy” for my taste. Note in the image the charming “shared” TP dispenser. I was unsure if the brush between the toilets was for cleaning, or if it was assumed one might want to scratch his back whilst using the facility. Thank God the door had a functioning lock. Otherwise I’d have been forced to go find a tree.

By the time I arrived at the auction yard, it was 3:45 pm and the sun was like a blowtorch. High humidity, few clouds, no breeze. I backed up to the dock and a guy brought out the three pieces I was to haul: An asphalt roller, a street sweeper, and a Ford L-9000 dump truck. He drove the stuff onto the trailer, bid me a fond farewell, and I began tying down the load.

This was when I was reminded that:

  • I’m not as young as I used to be
  • I’m not as slim as I used to be
  • My gimpy leg (broke my ankle last February) doesn’t like jumping and climbing
  • I am, after all, a heart patient and,
  • I’m way out of practice tying down machinery

I became fatigued almost instantly. So, I pulled outside the auction yard to an open area with lots of welcome shade. I cranked up the a/c, stole one of my buddy’s Dole fruit cups from his cooler, and settled in to wait for the sun to drop a bit lower.

StepDeckLoad Once the sun dropped behind some convenient clouds I crawled out of the cool of the cab and set to work. I got the load secured with little trouble although I was exhausted by the time I was done. While I don’t plan to return to machinery-hauling (which I did for a living in the 80’s and early 90’s), it was fun to get to mess with it once after all these years. Had I taken better care of myself in the intervening years, I’d still be able to do it without it being such a chore. But those days are behind me and I fear best left behind. Hindsight is always 20-20 as the saying goes.


PlainsGA_CarterSign The trip back to MS took me through Plains, GA. For some reason, this town still seems to think it’s a good thing to acknowledge its one famous resident. At least Jimmy-Boy can legitimately claim that he is no longer the worst president in US history. He’s 2nd worst, or perhaps third, depending upon your opinions of Barack Obama and George W. Bush. Or, did you think I’d be able to write a blog post completely free of politics? Me???

Not a chance. Wink

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Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Bugs for Dinner

By Alan Burkhart

grasshopper_big_green One of the few constants in our chaotic world is the meddlesome nature of many people – usually, but not always liberals, to try to change the way we do things in the western world. We eat too much. We use too much oil and gas. We spew too many toxic fumes into the atmosphere. We're too wealthy. We're a bunch of arrogant, greedy people who just don't care about the world we live in. And now we have the ultimate insult. The UN is considering a policy paper stating that we don't eat enough bugs. No, I'm not making this up.

According to a Popular Science article posted August 2, 2010 western culture's general abhorrence of insects is a contributor to man-made global warming. We should be, says the policy paper in question, eating slugs and crickets instead of beef, pork and chicken because of the supposedly lessened environmental impact that would result. And of course, bugs are healthier than the diet of meat we've lived on since time immemorial.

From the Popular Science website:

The raising of livestock consumes two-thirds of the planet's farmland, and is a major source of greenhouse gases. Meanwhile, tons of edible, sustainable protein swarms all around us, free for the taking. In a new policy paper being considered by the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Belgian entomologist Arnold van Huis makes the sensible recommendation that the western world eat more insects.

Farming edible insects like mealworms and crickets would produce far less greenhouse gas -- 10 times less methane and 100 times less nitrous oxide -- than the large mammals we currently farm. Insects are metabolically much more efficient, which makes them far cheaper to feed and raise; and, since they're so biologically different from humans, they are less subject to contagious disease scares like mad cow. They are high in protein and calcium, and, with over 1,000 edible species, offer plenty of delicious variety.


Let's face it – the Popular Science article gave itself away right from the get-go. This isn't about conserving farmland or healthy eating habits. It's just more of the same old claptrap from the glo-warmers. Evil Man is frying the planet like a cheap steak with all that carbon dioxide and whatever else we pump into the atmosphere, right? Try to remember the simple fact that human activity contributes about three percent of the so-called "greenhouse gasses" to the atmosphere. The rest comes naturally from Mother Earth. Human-caused global warming is the biggest scam in planetary history, intended specifically to line the pockets of a select few (Al Gore comes to mind).

And friends, I am not blind to what goes on in the rest of the world. I fully realize that in some corners of the globe bug-eating is a perfectly acceptable practice. This occurs for two reasons: First, some people just like bugs. That's okay by me. If you wish to consume crickets or roast roaches, it's your business. Second, some parts of the world are so impoverished that people eat bugs simply to survive. Give someone in that second group a choice between a big old juicy bug or a big old juicy cheeseburger and see which one they choose.

Thus far, even in a free-falling economic disaster like our current state of affairs, I still manage to keep some 93% lean ground beef and a pound of mesquite-smoked shaved turkey from the Kroger deli in the fridge. I've got some canned chili and beef tamales in the cupboard, too. If worse comes to worse, I’m a fair hunter. Now that I think about it, some tender rabbit or squirrel doesn't sound too bad. I'll even eat a baked armadillo (down south we call it "possum on the half-shell"). But I won't be eating any bugs (or Opossum).

And of course, the busybodies have an agenda for coercing us to eat bugs. More from van Huis in a related UK Guardian article:

..."I can see a step-by-step process to wider implementation."

First, insects could be used to feed farmed animals such as chicken and fish which eat them naturally. Then, they could be used as ingredients.

Van Huis adds: "We're looking at ways of grinding the meat [bugs] into some sort of patty, which would be more recognisable to western palates."


Oh yeah, you betcha. Feel free, Mister van Huis, to bring that stuff down here to Mississippi. Be sure and get back to me on how that works out, okay? Bring on the bug burgers!

It boils down to a simple fact: What each of us eats is our business. We don't need a bunch of snotty academics trying to become the world's dietary dictators. I find it impossible to think that I might find a grasshopper appetizing after watching them get smashed on my windshield all day. And I do not equate setting an ant trap under the kitchen cabinet to trapping game animals in the woods near my home.

scorpionsDo not hit me with phony science about climate change and then tell me eating "scorpion on a stick" (this happens in Asia) will somehow help save the planet. I hope someday enough people will get enough of this nonsense and react to it in a sufficiently hostile manner that people like Arnold van Huis will retreat back under whatever bug-infested rock from which they emerged. If you like eating bugs, that's your business. I prefer beef, and that's my business.



Sources and Credits:

Friday, April 02, 2010


By Alan Burkhart

Okay, I am fully aware that the country is in a crisis. The economy is a train wreck, we have a shameless Marxist for a President, and arguably the most inept Congress in our nation's history. I write about this stuff twice a month. I try to do my part. But right now I need a break from politics before my head just explodes. Admit it: You do, too. So at great risk to my own credibility I offer what might be my all-time most pointless bit of writing.

A good friend of mine called me a few days ago wanting me to help him find a particularly obscure movie. He didn't remember the name of the flick. He didn't remember any of the cast. But for some reason he wanted to see if he could lay hands on a copy. It was a B-grade horror flick that involved cannibals, and the story evidently takes place in Colonial America. We never found it at Internet Movie Database (, so if you happen to be familiar with it, do drop me a line.

What we did find, and spent a half hour chuckling over, was an abundance of truly bizarre and funny movie titles involving cannibalism. Here are the best (worst?) of the bunch for your... consumption:

  • "Dr. Butcher M.D." (1980)
  • "Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals" (1977
  • "Eaten Alive by the Cannibals!" (1980)
  • "Cannibal Apocalypse" (1980)
  • "Life Among the Cannibals" (1996)
  • "Planet of the Cannibals" (2001)
  • "Kung Fu Cannibals" (1980)
  • "Hillside Cannibals" (2006)
  • "Catwalk Cannibals" (2002)
  • "Shocking Cannibals" (1975)
  • "Papaya: Love Goddess of the Cannibals" (1978)
  • "Alice Cans the Cannibals" (1925)
  • "Feed Them to the Cannibals!" (1993)
  • "Summer Cannibals" (1996)
  • "National Geographic: Are We Cannibals" (2004) (TV)
  • "Shipwrecked Among Cannibals" (1920)
  • "Shorty Among the Cannibals" (1915)
  • "The Cannibal's Liver" (2007)
  • "Cannibal Hookers" (1987)
  • "Cannibal Girls" (1973)
  • "Cannibal Capers" (1930)
  • "Cannibal Rollerbabes" (1997)
  • "Satan's Cannibal Holocaust" (2007)
  • "The Long Island Cannibal Massacre" (1980)
  • "Bloodthirsty Cannibal Demons" (1993)
  • "Cannibal Cheerleader Camp" (2008)
  • "Interview with a Cannibal" (2007)
  • "Camels to Cannibal" (1927)
  • "Cannibal Cult" (1999)
  • "Cannibal Doctor" (1999)
  • "Cannibal Jane" (2007)
  • "Cannibal Lovers" (2008)
  • "His Cannibal Wife" (1917)
  • "The Adventures of Willie Woodbine and Lightning Larry -- A Joyride to the Cannibal Islands" (1915)
  • "Cannibal Sisters" (2006)
  • "The Brothers Cannibal" (2010)
  • "The Cannibal Twins" (2009)
  • "The Captivatin' Cannibal" (1924)
  • "The Nutzoids at Cannibal Cove" (1989)

I saved my favorite four titles for last:

  • "Curse of the Confederate Cannibals" (1982)
  • "Cannibal Hillbillies" (2003)
  • "Lieutenant Pimple, King of Cannibal Islands" (1914)
  • "Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death" (1989)

And there you have it: Proof that there are some sick individuals in the movie business. But who am I to judge? I did after all laugh my ass off for twenty minutes over this stuff.

Later y’all!


Monday, January 11, 2010

Climbing Monteagle

By Alan Burkhart

I’m presently en route from Lawrenceville, GA to Kansas City, MO, which takes me up I-24 through the town of Monteagle, TN. Monteagle sits at the top of a small mountain pass, and the frozen springs in the rock walls along the highway caught my attention. So, I have dutifully provided my typical low-resolution images in bad light for my faithful readers. The road appears icy in the images, but it’s actually just leftover brine solution that’s dried to the road surface (nasty, crusty stuff).

I also tossed in an image of the little country road I had to travel a few days ago to deliver to a north Texas tree farm. I am truly glad I didn’t meet anyone. It would’ve gotten crowded pretty quickly. Anyway, hope you enjoy the images.